- a leadership vacuum if riots ensue
- the 'XR solution' from Starmer - OR Boris
- frustration for Khan
- the EU's Big Play ...
For every Zuckerberg and Gates and their homegrown empires, there's a Green, an Ecclestone and a Deripaska. They spotted the distressed or undervalued asset, they capitalised on it, invested it, looted it.
The world of power-politics is full of entrepreneurs on the lookout, too. And we've all been mulling over a distress scenario - BLM copycat riots, for want of a better term - which might be coming to the boil right now, and which must look like the plummest of plum opportunities for several people, particularly on the Left, if they can stop it degenerating into another 2011. If they can get ahead of it at all, that is ...
Now let's immediately acknowledge that sometimes these violent prospects evaporate. A good example is Grenfell. That seemed pretty febrile at the time: but to my surprise, it settled fairly quickly into a deep and luxuriant patch of traditional English long grass, its insurgency potential slipping away. Nor did Les Gilets Jaunes ever really gained hardcore Political traction (we'll come to XR later, because it's important). Yes, Britain's armchair revolutionaries - white, Oxbridge, dilettante - are indeed wedded to their equally luxuriant armchairs. They still hanker after being the officer-class, though, directing the street-masses via social media from their châteaux HQs. And there's no obvious sign of organic leadership within the demonstrators just yet.
The anti-racism demonstrators, overwhelmingly aged under 30, have largely been part of a movement using the LDNBLM hashtag that has no identifiable leaders and whose events are publicised via word of mouth and social mediaWe'll start with the more lurid possibilities. Let's consider at least the possibility that UK summer riots, if they occur, might allow for political initiative; and that several ambitious fellows have spotted a leadership vacancy. If things develop into no more than 2011-style looting & arson, well, not many established politicians want their names to be blackened by association with inchoate anarchy. But the Left is keenly looking for opportunities to Politicise (as Kev commented BTL here, "it's the Left's way of gaining back what they couldn't get through the ballot box"), eagerly abetted by the Beeb, as many have noted.
The question, then, is: IF rioting starts here ... who's likely to attempt what?
In many such circumstances someone on the government side might try to make a name for themselves as the hard man. It could be argued Cameron had a crack at this back in 2011, along with his DPP, one Kier Starmer ... But - Priti Patel? Doesn't look terribly plausible. Boris? Errr, no.
No, we're looking for Grabber to emerge from the other side. If Corbyn's regime was still in place, I'd have expected it to be McDonnell, a genuine revolutionary on paper: but again, none of them really ran with Grenfell.
Is there anyone who can front for the putative rioters, in the sense of declaring themselves to be the leader, particularly for "negotiating" purposes? This would be quite difficult for any established politician when (innocent) people, including coppers and fire-fighters, start getting hurt. It's possible one of the new intake of firebrand Labour MPs might give it a crack, (nothing to lose, see what happens). Clearly enough there are some unpleasant people in those ranks, but personally I don't know enough about them to nominate any. Of the established urban MPs: David 'Broadwater' Lammy? No revolutionary, he: rather, in recent times a man of measured statements and nuanced views. Diane Abbbottt? Hmm.
I think we may also rule out Starmer. For several reasons he doesn't look like fronting up for violence: it's categorically not in his makeup (respectable lawyer, not revolutionary; and a prosecutor to boot). He'll want to capitalise alright - by staying exactly where he is, risking nothing, in order to have the plum fall in his lap all the more certainly in 2025. He might be wrong about that, of course, but it'll be his strategy - statesmanlike mediator; distant and lofty proscriber of vague & worthy medicaments. He just needs to watch his back for the serious impatience within the People's Party that has already been angrily directed his way on several occasions already.
Outside Parliament (which is of course where the really fidgety Momentum types feel the action should be) ... Stormzy? Owen Jones? Someone from rather more, errr, mainstream pop-culture - Gary Lineker? Who can tell; the hour doth sometimes bringeth forward the man: but can anyone seriously spot a Martin Luther King or a Nelson Mandela out there in Park Lane?
Someone who can be absolutely guaranteed to be seen prominently flitting about with both the hare and the hounds is of course Sadiq Khan. His ambition to be seen to be in command of the "BAME vote" is never far below the surface; but his desire for world-stage metro respectability is pretty enormous, too - him with his world-class police force and armoured Range Rover. Plus, of course, he's ultra-transactional (and very pragmatic, as every mayor ends up being): everything's up for negotiation - and he's busting to get back at HMG for the recent TfL settlement he was forced to swallow. Like Starmer though, what he really wants is a Good-War rep for future purposes, not a high-risk position in the streets. (And if there's half a chance of a "responsible", Parliamentary outcome - see XR below - Khan, as so often, will be deeply frustrated at his own current lack of a Parliamentary platform, and will try hard to inveigle himself onto the platform.)
All in all, for want of obvious outright, authoritative leadership willing to get down and dirty, Gerry Adams style, the Left may encounter some challenges in re-purposing riots into something more tangibly Political. It's tantalising for them, because (a) they don't get many opportunities and are currently smarting from GE2019; (b) in strictly Marxist terms a section of the urban BAME community might actually be in a technically revolutionary frame of mind: nothing to lose, any change whatsoever must be beneficial to them. But the same theory would also suggest that an ethnic minority doth not a revolution make - nor indeed anything short of the entire Working Class.
What will be the demands?
All this is by way of ruminating on an age-old issue: in large-scale conflict, it suits both sides to know who speaks for - and can deliver - the other side. Even calling for unconditional capitulation generally pre-supposes some effective leadership on the losing side that can present themselves for signing the instrument of surrender, and reliably thereafter give the dismal command to stand down. If it's more balanced, then actual negotiations need to be conducted, for which an authoritative counterparty is required (e.g. Good Friday Agreement).
There's something else that in due course needs to be tied down. What, concretely, will the Left be demanding? If they don't know, it all descends into mere anarchy and they lose their moment.
Sometimes there is tactical merit in making ridiculous ("impossibilist") demands to ensure failure and dissatisfaction, a strategem often associated with Trotsky. But in June 2020, as we've said, there is likely to be a strong desire on the Left to leverage the rare moment to obtain something immediately tangible on the political front (as well as, errr, electrical goods and fashionable clothing). "A better deal for BAME people" or similar doesn't really advance their cause in quite the immediate ways they'd like. Black History Month to be extended to a full year? Compulsory diversity training for the entire population? A special BAME minimum wage? Immediate rehousing for everyone living in a tower block?
The problem is clear. For a political demand to be successful, the gain it seeks must be tangibly, irreversably deliverable. This is a real challenge for sudden uprisings, when the said gain must be promptly deliverable, too - before the rain starts and everyone packs up and goes home. As British history amply illustrates, it ain't as easy it it might seem (Chartists, Pilgrimage of Grace, Peasants' Revolt etc etc).
This puts us in the realm of what I call politics with short lines of logistics. Stuff that can effectively be done with the stroke of a pen. (That's why "release of prisoners" or "returning troops to barracks" feature so often, for example.) Foreign policy can more often be in this category - treaties, troop movements and the like. But big domestic items - "general improvement in welfare" or "Green New Deal" can't be delivered on the spot. Even legislation can't be promised in a useful timeframe for a riot situation
The XR Precedent
XR is interesting - and not, in truth, really a riot. In many respects it's surprising XR was so easily fobbed off with can-kicking legislation, albeit notionally epic in scale. If things get really bad, Boris will keenly wish to repeat this trick. And I could well imagine some on the Left reckoning the XR type of outcome - virtue-signalling legislation for long term change, mutatis mutandis - is actually quite a good one, if less immediately dramatic than a coup. If Starmer is as smart as some reckon, that's what he'll angle for: it's Parliamentary (which he'll happily front for any day of the week); it can be packaged to look highly responsible; he can even attempt to get (some) all-party support - very PM-like. In fact, if Cummings is really on the ball, he'll be planning how to get ahead of this one right now, as May more-or-less did last year. The upcoming "Great Recovery Bill" is the obvious vehicle; and if Boris doesn't propose the relevant clauses himself we may be sure Starmer will be quick with his own amendments.
But back to demands emerging from the more lurid extra-Parliamentary riot-scenario: what's it to be? I mentioned release of prisoners with a purpose, because amnesty for looters might very well be on the list by the time we're finished. Beyond that, I'm not keen to give anyone ideas. Except ...
The EU Angle
As has been widely surmised, part of this imminent potential crisis is surely tied in with the looming deadline for Barnier to come off the pot. A classic stroke-of-the-pen job would be to demand, say, that Frost be sent to grovel for an extension of the transition period. Let's see how this is first floated in public - a C@W Extension Bingo prize for the first authentic sighting of this in the specific context of the putative riots. (Note, however: a lot of the activist Left is for Lexit.) With the Beeb's active connivance, ways can be found to insinuate this, then try to sell it as part of a package to appease the looters. Far-fetched? That's before you factor in the deviousness of a Mandelson or the brazen determination of a Gina Miller.
Here's a prediction. If the putative arson etc is on a scale that's material for the economy, the EU will swing in with an offer, along the lines of: UK to get a pro rata share of an EU post-Covid economic stimulus package, plus immediate solidarity & cohesion fund payments targeted at inner city areas (to be distributed by city mayors) - in return for a 2-year transition-period extension, plus x, y and z ...
Even Starmer might find it hard not to front for that.